Safe As Houses: 10 Charles Street, Woolloomooloo

Adam Smith 27 July 2017

News article on the murder at 10 Charles Street

A former circus clown’s drunken antics fail to amuse.

  • WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.

Bob Widgery was a born entertainer. The problem was, he didn’t know when to stop.

Bob had travelled Australia performing as a circus clown. Born a dwarf, Bob played his condition for laughs, as many would have been forced to do in the early 1900s. One of his most popular routines was riding a horse around the big top at full clip, only to be hoisted aloft by hidden wires while the horse continued from underneath him and Bob was left pedalling his legs fruitlessly in the air.

Long after his days with the circus were over, Bob still couldn’t help putting himself at the centre of attention. He moved into a small terrace house at 10 Charles Street in Woolloomooloo and proceeded to make a name for himself as the neighbourhood’s most reliable source for a good time.

“A good time”, for context, meant drunken parties that would have rivalled the antics of Bob’s circus days. As the Sydney Arrow put it in its report on Bob’s final days, “there is not an hostelry within miles of East Sydney where you will not meet people who will tell you how much they enjoyed [Bob’s] quips and jests”.

The quips and jests must have run afoul of at least one person, because on the morning of 4 February 1933, Bob’s body was found in the gutter opposite his house at 10 Charles Street.

Details are scant on what precisely brought Bob to such an end, a tin-opener shoved through his earlobe and into his jugular. But one fact is certain: it was preceded by a hell of a party.

Bob and his entourage (of mostly ladies) had engaged in bacchanalian revelry throughout the day, with the police being called to the address more than once to quell drunken brawls. So raucous was the party that at one point when the wine ran dry and no-one was forthcoming with funds, one of the women pawned her false teeth to buy more.

The story that police were eventually told after they followed the trail of blood from Bob’s body, across the street to number 10 and up the stairs to Bob’s room, was that he and his former roommate, John Kircaldy, had argued, and that Bob had pulled a knife.

John, a coal lumper by trade, had known Bob for about five years.

“He was a quarrelsome man,” John told police.

According to John, it was Bob who had caused trouble at the party, apparently over the affections of a young woman. He had pulled a knife, and John left.

“I did not have any argument with Widgery. I was not fighting with him in the bedroom. I did not throw him out of the door,” he said, “I got a pint of wine and went into the Domain to drink it. I do not remember much after that.”

John’s testimony directly contradicted that of two eyewitnesses, who said they saw John and Bob scuffle and John throw Bob into the street.

Ultimately, there were just too many conflicting accounts to definitively say what had happened to Bob. John Kircaldy wasn’t committed to stand trial for Bob’s murder.

The house at number 10 Charles Street

The house at number 10 Charles Street today. Source: Google Maps

The house where Bob held his final party still stands in Woolloomooloo. While there’s no data of historical sales, CoreLogic puts its current value between $1,725,000 and $2.2 million.

The Sydney Arrow describes a small throng of people gathering to mourn Bob at a funeral parlour on Elizabeth Street. Apart from the crowd stood one of Bob’s many female companions.

“Poor little chap,” she tearfully told the newspaper. “Us girls are sorry that he has gone.”

An entertainer to the end.

Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.

Picture credit: Trove

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